Published: 16:00, 09 June 2014
More children have disappeared from council care in Kent than any other part of the country, figures show.
In Kent, 458 children went missing on 2,623 occasions between 2012 and 2013 — the highest number of any local authority, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.
They included a one-year-old girl who has been missing since July 2013 and a two-year-old, who was found after just a day, although most were teenagers.
The figures, reported in the Sunday Times, have been described as "alarming" by experts, but Kent County Council said they told only part of the story.
Peter Oakford, KCC cabinet member for specialist children's services, said the county faced particular challenges.
He said: "It is always a huge concern when children and young people go missing, even if just for a few hours. In Kent, we face particular issues due to being a port authority and receive the highest number of unaccompanied minors in the UK."
He added: "When unaccompanied asylum seeker children arrive from abroad, we don't know what sort of ordeals they have gone through on their journey. They are scared and many have been told by traffickers to run away and meet contacts when they arrive in England."
"We face particular issues due to being a port authority and receive the highest number of unaccompanied minors in the UK..." - Peter Oakford, Kent County Council
He said the authority worked hard with other agencies to find those who had gone missing.
"When a child goes missing, we work closely with the police to find the child but we also need the government and other authorities to help us to address these wider issues including breaking down international trafficking networks which can lead to vulnerable children going missing."
The Kent Safeguarding Children Board, which is independent and oversees the care of young people, says that improving the way agencies work together when tackling missing children is a priority.
Tom Rahilly, head of strategy for looked-after children at the NSPCC, said: "When children and young people in care go missing it should be no different to when any other child disappears from home. This is very alarming."
In total, at least 4,852 looked-after children went missing across the country over the year.
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